My cousin dragged me to see Glee star Darren Criss who recently joined the cast of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying for a very short 3 week run. Despite twitter grumblings that he was dreadful, I thought he managed a respectable turn in the role of J. Pierrepont Finch but lacked the projection and voice to really ever be a Broadway belter.
Clearly I'm not the demographic for either Dan Radcliffe or Darren Criss. In fact, I've never particularly liked How to Succeed in Business as a musical. I caught the awful Matthew Broderick-Megan Mullally version years ago when I was the right demo and I thought the show was dated and frankly insulting. I'm pretty sure I marched out with a scowl on my face and a feminist rant in my throat.
I wanted to see Daniel Radcliffe give it a go as a musical theater performer so I got over my misgivings about the material and checked out this new production of H2$ last year. In the end, I enjoyed the Rob Ashford directed and choreographed production a lot more than the 1995 production. The staging, choreography and energy were just far and away more visually compelling. The source material remained dated but (maybe I have soften in my old age) it bugged me less because it seemed to know that the material was a bit ridiculous.
Radcliffe was not an amazing singer but managed to sound pretty strong for 90% of his performance. His dancing was the biggest surprise. He seemed incredibly comfortable moving on stage and gave a charming, winsome performance. With that in mind, Criss does an ok job as a replacement. His voice was not very loud and even with microphones he was not projecting much. He hit his notes (though the whole thing sounded a bit out of his range and he was straining to get there). I thought he did a fine job with the dance numbers, and considering a short rehearsal time, I found that impressive.
For some reason he read much younger to me than I would have expected so even Rosemary seems a bit old for him. I don't watch Glee anymore (it jumped the shark for me pretty early on) so I came to his performance without much Glee baggage. Criss was a bit slicker than Radcliffe in his role as Finch. A bit more devious and a bit less sweet. Radcliffe's adorable beaming smile was still burned into my mind as I watched Criss's performance. It was hard to shake how much I liked Radcliffe to make room for another "interpretation" of the role by Criss.
Criss had a lot of bounce, vim and vigor. But Christopher Hanke was stealing the show left, right and center...even from an audience that was there to see Criss. Beau Bridges, as J.B. Biggley, was gruff and marble-mouthed the entire show (I kept wondering why he was the person they went to as a replacement). I missed John Laroquette who had been warmer and more fun to watch in the Radcliffe-run. Mary Faber was out of the show I saw, so I caught her understudy, Tanya Birl, as Smitty. Birl was adorable and energetic.
The audience behaved itself and honestly cheered quite loudly for the cast as a whole which I was happy to see. I'd like to hope bringing people in to see someone like Darren Criss will convert people who have never been to a Broadway show into theater-goers generally. But I often worry that people have just come for the "star" and won't be back anytime soon unless it's again a Glee cast member. I was listening to people in line talk about how much they spent on these tickets (around $500 through ticket agencies). I was a little stunned that people would spend that much on someone who is not Hugh Jackman. Just think of how many more shows they could go see if they just paid retail.
I think the producers were brilliant to do this during the January doldrums. But it would be nice if these folks were coming to town for H2$ and then seeing other great shows playing around the corner too.